Chinese banks need to improve customer service

  • AseanPlus News
  • Wednesday, 07 Jun 2006

TOP executives and investors of Bank of China (BoC) were toasting each other with champagne to celebrate the bank’s spectacular share price performance on the debut day – June 1 – in Hong Kong.  

The BoC’s successful initial public offering (IPO) that raised US$9.7bil (RM36.7bil) in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange was seen as another milestone in China’s banking industry, following the listing of China Construction Bank and Bank of Communication last year. 

And to top it all, China's second-largest lender said yesterday it had lodged an application on Monday with the China Securities Regulatory Commission to list 10 billion domestic A-shares which could raise as much as US$2.5bil (RM9.4bil). 

This certainly puts the BoC on track to become the first major IPO on the mainland since stock sales resumed last month after a year-long suspension. 

The exact timing of the listing is still to be confirmed. 

During the bank's IPO there were reports that fund managers were impressed that the bank’s chairman Xiao Gang was able to field questions in English – something not many Chinese top executives dared to do – during road shows in Hong Kong.  

His fluent English had, to a certain extent, boosted investors’ confidence in the bank.  

But back home, it would seem BoC’s banking service might not have impressed its customers so much. 

Generally the Chinese banks, and I must add not only the BoC, need to put in more effort in improving their customer service.  

Each time I go to the bank, I take a book or a newspaper along. It is not because the Chinese banks have a cosy corner for customers to enjoy reading while sipping a cup of coffee, but a book or newspaper could keep me occupied when I need to wait for at least half an hour in the banking hall to make a transaction. 

Banking transactions can be time-consuming here. You may have to spend up to an hour for a simple transaction like checking your bank balance and converting foreign currency into renminbi. 

And also do not be surprised when tellers take more than a while to serve a customer. Generally, the situation with customer service in regard to faster and smoother transactions needs to be improved. 

Sometimes, these particular banks in China remind me of the old days in Malaysia when customers would be in a long queue with only two or three counters open. (Mind you, there are complaints that it still happens now and then.)  

The flipside of this situation would be the foreign bankers, who are waiting eagerly to enter retail banking in China, who would most probably be smiling in anticipation.  

This is to say that efficient and friendly customer service could be the foreign banks’ trump card in winning the Chinese consumers’ hearts. 

Foreign banks in China currently are not allowed to take deposits from the man on the street. They can only provide corporate banking services to businessmen, besides personal banking for foreigners. 

But China will have to open up its retail banking industry to foreign players by the end of this year under the World Trade Organisation agreement.  

Needless to say, many foreign banking groups, like HSBC Bank and Citigroup, are eyeing this sizeable retail banking market that has a population of 1.3 billion people, with savings deposits of 15.3 trillion yuan (RM7.1tril).  

When liberalisation starts, the local state-owned banks will have to share the pie with international players.  

Until then, the Chinese banks may perhaps realise sooner to their advantage the essentials of good customer service in order to retain a fair share of the pie. 

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